This is an excerpt from Qigong Illustrated by Christina J. Barea Young.
The word qigong is simply translated as “the practice of energy cultivation over time;” however, the word holds a much deeper meaning. Chinese is a descriptive language where each character represents a three-dimensional concept, so qigong stands for a wealth of ideas and practices. Let’s begin by breaking down the word qigong into two smaller components, qi and gong. (See figure 1.1 to see qi and gong in Chinese characters.)
Qi has several translations, including “energy,” “life-force,” “breath,” “air,” “mist,” “steam,” and more. But simply stated, it’s the particular energy of an object. It is believed that all objects have energy, including people, animals, plants—in short, anything contained on the Earth and in the Heavens. Perhaps you’ve heard about this energy and are wondering, “Well, what does energy mean?” You might even be a skeptic who doesn’t believe that qi exists. Defining energy can seem like asking someone to believe in a mystical force that permeates the universe and all living beings. And yet, that’s true—it is and it does.
Qi is mystical in the sense that we don’t fully comprehend how to define it, control it, or measure it. It exists, yet it constantly reveals new layers of discovery. The limitation of our understanding of those things we cannot see, feel, or hear is the same limitation we have in understanding the power of qi. But let’s find a more practical and perhaps scientific approach to defining qi.
A basic way of defining qi is through the five energies of cells: heat, light, sound, magnetic, and electric. Simply stated, each cell emits wavelengths of heat, light, sound, magnetism, and electricity. Each of those wavelengths can be measured, altered, and controlled. We know that some of those wavelengths can be perceived without the aid of special devices. We see a wide gamma of light, but we can’t see X rays or infrared radiation. Does that mean they don’t exist? Absolutely not—they do exist. We can hear a car engine running, birds chirping, and music being played at the symphony, but we can’t hear the sound of a dog whistle. Does that mean it doesn’t exist? Just whistle at Fido—he will answer! Qi is this type of energy but not just each one in isolation; it’s all of them put together. Together, these energies give a living cell a multidimensional quality that includes function, communication, and connection well beyond the boundaries of the physical realm.
Let’s quickly examine a phrase that often accompanies popular definitions of qi and qigong: “Everything is connected.” Many people wonder how we all can be connected when, for example, there are thousands of miles between millions of people in this world. Well, let’s go back to the five energies of cells. We established that each one of those energies emits a wavelength, right? That wavelength travels as far as the intensity of the emitter. Visualize a magnet. It emits a field around it that is proportional to its strength—the stronger the magnet, the bigger the field. Humans are the same. We are a huge magnet or battery emitting a field of invisible, inaudible, and otherwise insensible wavelengths from our bodies. Qigong masters have learned how to feel, emit, intensify, diminish, and otherwise control the field by controlling their bodies. It’s easy to imagine that learning how to do this would require a lot of practice—in other words, gong.
Gong refers to practice which leads to “merit” or “achievement.” Saying “qigong” implies practicing qi cultivation over time. The question now becomes, “How do I learn to cultivate qi?” Ah, well, that’s the hard part. Actually, it’s not hard; it just requires patience, practice, and discipline. Like any sport, art, or skill, qigong must be developed. One needs to begin to absorb the many nuances of the skill before being able to produce something that is both beautiful and powerful. However, there is infinite joy in taking time to learn an art of any kind. The learning process reveals our strengths, talents, and inspiration and patiently waits for us to work with our weaknesses.
Naturally, if one’s objective is to be able to do magic with qigong, then the gong part of training will be more difficult and take much longer before results are seen. Fortunately, when practicing qigong for health, we can begin to see results immediately. Just a little guidance can get you started on the fast track to a great qigong practice.
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